The Clarion

Social change and postmodernism

Isaiah Dwyer, Staff Writer

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One of the most influential times of United States was the 1960s and 70s. There was a mini-enlightenment, so to speak, and the world started to change for the better. Social change was at a forefront. Peace, love and compassion were core components of our culture, and the we started exploring the world in terms of one unified people.

The undeniable rights our forefathers declared, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness didn’t seem to hold true for every member of our society, and this was the heart of the issue. Across culture, we started examining our societies in terms of social constructions. How were we coming to terms with the world? Is it possible that there were hidden biases and motivations influencing our lives? There was quite a bit of discussion regarding how our society was built, and the product of this kind of thinking is called postmodernism.

Postmodernism describes quite a few things, but the basic assumption is that the world boils down to a social construction; the values and beliefs that we hold, are actually the values and beliefs of a dominant group.

For instance, a postmodernist could argue that the only reason why we wear pants is because wearing pants is the norm, and those who don’t wear pants have been suppressed, so to speak, and forced to adopt a submissive role in society. Postmodernism questions the validity of our objective, empirical world, and challenges any claim to knowledge or truth, as an assertion of power.

From a purely objective point of view, the postmodern assumption is absolutely correct; as it turns out, there are an infinite amount of ways we can interpret our world, and there are also infinite ways to convince ourselves of any reality. After all, at one point, it was absolute truth that our Earth was the center of the universe; at one point, it was absolute truth that humans couldn’t reach out into space. As humans, we are able to justify any of our beliefs through logic alone; regardless of any true objectivity.

This revolution crossed every facet of our society; literature, arts, politics, and especially education. See, the 1960s and 1970s were times of educational crises in the United States. There was a drastic shortage of educators, and postmodern thinking opened the door for completely new kinds of study. Our social and empirical sciences were being pushed forward like never before; psychologists like Carl Jung were exploring the nature of our unconscious, we were making our way into space, and our social sciences were revolutionized.

Women’s studies developed out of the English departments, and racially sociological studies started being investigated. We figured out that there had been some forms of bias constructed into the development of our society, and we figured out that we needed to change. People were actually embracing the ’60s and ’70s, feel-good, peace-and-love, mindset; we were bridging the gap, so to speak. Just thinking about how our relationships with others were determined, would bring us together. But every system has its flaws, and the postmodern world is no exception; why would it be?

So much of our education system today is built on these postmodern assumptions, that they’ve twisted themselves into absolute truths and, therefore, claims to power; becoming exactly what a postmodernist would try to argue against, a grand interpretation of how the world is, based on the assumption of mainstream views. We see this in terms of race relations, feminist movements, and pretty much all of our current events today.

I should make it clear: in no way am I arguing against whether or not racism and bigotry exist in today’s world. These things will always be present, that’s just a product of our flawed human nature, but to make any assumption about a group of people based on their physical characteristics, is wrong, and exactly what our society is trying to avoid. So why is white privilege a thing? Why are we still looking at the world through a lens of group identities? Assertions of racism or sexism are not untrue, they wouldn’t be measureable or subject to any kind of studying if that were the case, but they are just one interpretation of our reality and, therefore, must be subject to the same criteria that postmodernism, originally asserted.

What are the grand narratives of today? Shouldn’t they be approached from the same kind of skepticism that developed in the ’60s and ’70s?

The enemy here isn’t postmodernism, it’s group identities. If we truly want to transcend bigotry, we need to transcend the labels, and start looking at ourselves in terms of a species; not through lenses of race and sex. We are not black people and white people, or men and women, we are humans first, and from a psychological point of view, reducing our identities to physical characteristics, does nothing but add to our collective neurosis, and make us slaves to the popularized conceptions of those characteristics.

We live in the most progressive time of our society to date. The generations ahead of us, aren’t going to throw away our compassions, but we can’t substitute one form of racism for another, because there’s no progress in that kind of thinking, and there’s no learning either.

We need to relax. We need to stop looking at the world in terms of the things we hate. We need to start proving that racial and sexist lines don’t actually exist, and are only a product of our flawed human nature, and we need to start encouraging everyone to go against the curve, so to speak, so those lines can be blurred, and our communities can grow.

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Social change and postmodernism